I Never See Girls Like Me in Movies
For most of my life, I didn’t understand why I never saw real people in movies and on the TV. My parents immigrated to the states from Ecuador, and I grew up in the extremely diverse city of Long Beach, California. I didn’t get why I only saw the same faces on screen. It was as if people who looked like my family and friends didn’t exist. All I had when I was a kid was Dora the Explorer and the telenovelas I would watch with my abuela. Everything else on TV wasn’t reflective of the life I’ve lead, or the lives I’ve been touched by.
These days, I have Jane the Virgin, an award-winning television show that felt like it was made for me and my family’s culture in mind. But transitioning from childhood to young adulthood, I still didn’t understand why Hollywood–especially film–does a poor job of depicting real lives. Even when the #oscarssowhite campaign took over the internet, I had no clue why this lack of diversity in Hollywood could still exist. I was left with only frustrated confusion.
How could there be so much wrong in an industry that I adored? As an aspiring screenwriter, I started an internship at a company that buys, sells, and produces independent films. My supervisor gave me prospective scripts to read, summarize, and analyze. I discussed everything from the script’s writing, to characters, to sellability.
There, I learned that a film’s value largely depends on its cast. The more famous the cast, the more people will want to see it, and thus the larger the box office numbers. I’ve read many scripts over the last few months and can't help but notice predictable plot similarities. I’ve also come across dozens of female characters who have less development than a dog...and dozens of men that are way too perfect.
And then, I came across one excellent script that focused on the Vietnamese sons of a Vietnam war veteran. I loved the writing and heart of that project, but when it came to determining its value, I was stuck. I couldn’t name any Vietnamese A-list actors to cast as the main characters.
At that moment it was as if the giant curtain behind Hollywood was lifted. Finally everything began to click. The industry has been stuck in a chicken-and-the-egg situation with diverse casting. Executives want “big names” in their movies, and there aren’t enough famous actors of color. The Latino community in the United States makes up 38% of movie ticket buyers every weekend at opening box office; however, these movies barely represent the majority of people that view them.
There’s only one way out of this cycle: The industry has to break the mold by continuing to find new, unique stories that hold enough heart to stand on their own in the box office, and for audiences to support them. The 2017 Oscar season was monumental in bringing more diverse films to screen, with movies like Moonlight and Hidden Figures. They were able to prove that even in an industry that cares so much about big numbers, it only takes honest voices and faces to make a difference.
I want to create unique stories and continue to support art that is inclusive and representative of the people, cultures, and stories that make up our world. The recent progress is great, but there’s still so much room to grow. This is why I’m so proud of my generation; if anyone can make it happen, it’s us.
By Michelle Vera, 18